New research finds “Magic 8” preschool classroom practices

A new study published this month in the journal Child Development, found that eight key teacher actions can make the difference between a mediocre preschool classroom and an excellent one.

A team of Vanderbilt University researchers spent two years gathering the data used to prove that these actions worked. Dale Farran, the head researcher, says the project was a direct result of the disappointing results of her previous research, a multi-year study published in 2015, which showed that Tennessee’s state preschool program had no effect or in some cases a negative effect on participants by the time they reached third grade.

Here’s the list, dubbed “The Magic 8” by the principals of the three Early Learning Centers they studied:

  1. Reduce time spent in transition. Time moving from one activity to another is time when children aren’t learning or engaged, which also increases the likelihood of negative behaviors.
  2. Improve level of instruction. Asking children open-ended, inferential questions and asking them to reflect on what they’ve learned or make predictions based on what they know improves student retention of new material and better prepares them for kindergarten.
  3. Create a positive climate. Using positive language to reinforce desired behavior rather than disapproving of specific student actions has a positive effect on children’s ability to self-regulate.
  4. Increase time teachers listen to children. Children whose teachers spent significant time listening to them showed a stronger grasp of math concepts, letters and sight words. Children who spoke more frequently also had stronger self-regulation and vocabulary skills.
  5. Plan sequential activities. When children participated in activities that followed a logical order, like completing a puzzle or writing a message, they engaged in higher level thinking, which improved their problem-solving skills.
  6. Promote cooperative interactions between children. Children who worked often with peers were more involved in classroom activities, had better language skills, and were better at self-regulation.
  7. Foster high levels of child involvement. Children are better at reading comprehension, vocabulary and math when they are actively involved in an activity, like when a teacher asks them to answer questions or make predictions about the book she’s reading.
  8. Provide math opportunities. Children who take part in multi-part math problems and discuss math concepts are better prepared for kindergarten and early math success, which is a strong predictor of late elementary school achievement.